With its voice over IP (VoIP) program just completed, Richmond, B.C.-based Information Highway.com Inc. (Ihiway) plans on rolling out free voice services over the Internet.
With hopes of bringing high volumes of traffic to the company’s Executive Site Network, Ihiway will offer VoIP to customers in Vancouver and Toronto free of charge.
“Information Highway.com will distribute free phone calls in order to drive more users to its Executive Site Network ( http://www.theexecutive.com) and will then generate additional revenues from advertising and commerce on its Executive Site pages because of the massive influx of users,” said Ihiway’s vice-president of Information Systems, Jason R. Roth. “Moreover, Information-Highway.com’s VoIP gateway system will attract strong interest to the company’s Internet access service.”
With a short audio advertisement before the commencement of each free long distance phone call, Ihiway anticipates that the VoIP system will allow the company to generate access and advertising revenues.
Utilising an AT&T fibre optic backbone, Ihiway will offer voice-enhanced Web commerce and interactive multimedia communications over the Internet.
Presently, the company’s clients are nearly 100 per cent consumer, but according to Roth, “prospective clients are plentiful and encompass anyone with a need to communicate. Business-to-business, business-to-consumer and re-sellers from all industries are anticipated as clients for the Ihiway Phone Product.”
IP Telephony is predicted to lower communications costs and eventually bring an end to long distance phone charges, merging voice, data, facsimile and multimedia into a single infrastructure.
According to Mark Quigley, an analyst with The Yankee Group in Canada, this farewell to long distance charges is a bit premature.
“If you look at the traditional service, it’s already been paid for, it’s been in the ground for so long,” said Quigley. “The incremental cost of an extra minute of traffic is next to nothing, so traditional long distance prices can compete with voice over IP if need be.
“Fibre optics don’t run into your house or into a business,” continued Quigley. “That’s great for the backbone traffic that’ll carry it between Toronto and Vancouver, but at some point in time it has to go off into that local loop which is all copper, and where you can still run into congestion problems.”
VoIP – a digital technology – uses packets and Internet Protocol, which require almost no overhead and are “not subject to the extensive government regulatory taxes and land-infrastructure overhead costs which traditional long-distance telephone companies must incur,” said Roth. “IP Telephony is emerging as a viable and strong competitor to the traditional telecommunications industry.”
Although Quigley believes that VoIP will become “something that is more widely used,” he believes the technology is not quite ready.
“In terms of voice over IP, I don’t know if everything is there quite yet to provide a voice service that would be equivalent to most other telephone conversations that you would have,” he said. “Packets still do get dropped, delay can be a problem, congestion can be a problem, particularly when you’re using a public Internet. I don’t know if people are willing to sacrifice the quality of voice calls for a reduction in price all the time.”
Gauging the inflections in someone’s voice, the ability to read a little more into the conversation rather than digesting the words you hear and translating them is still a concern when dealing with this new technology, according to Quigley.
Despite the varied opinions, president and CEO of Information Highway.com, John Roberston says, “Internet Telephony services will capture a conservative 5 per cent of all the long distance calls world-wide by year 2002. The overall market for IP telephony, including services, hardware and software, is projected to be US$9 billion by the year 2003. Frost & Sullivan sees the industry growing from US$19 million in 1996 to over US$1.5 billion by 2001.
“Extrapolating from the limited subset of data, the Global Internet Glider Technology Group suggests there may be close to a ten-fold annual growth rate in the industry,” continued Robertson. “Information-Highway.com, Inc. intends to capitalise on this enormous growth potential.”